Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Nor'easters-Cobras recap

On Monday, the swirling wind and rain of the New England Nor'easters coalesced into a gnashing mongoose that slayed the Carolina Cobras. The vaporous Rikki Tikki Tavi took a few fanged flesh wounds, but the lethal posion failed to find the bloodstream. The Nor'easters won 2.5-1.5 with a heroic roller-coaster (see my previous post) comeback from Dave Vigorito, a fine perpetual check from Hungaski, and a tempo-punishing victory by Charles Riordan.

To give the feel for the somber mood of the 10-12 live spectators, just look at the game positions projected on the wall in the following photo. This is what the crowd was staring at:
In the upper left, Hungaski (Black) has a solid looking position, but White has more space-- maybe this one was still OK. On Board 2 (lower left), Vigorito was already in a pawn-down positionally busted game by move 17. On Board 3, (lower right), no one had confidence in Charles's (Black) play on the queenside White squares. On Board 4 (upper right), Carey's (White) setup just felt wrong. None of the games had reached move 20, and already the masters-in-residence and patzers-in-house were concerned about a 3.5-0.5 venom blast.

Here is the game by game recap, in order of importance and crowd suspense.

Board 4 Carey Theil had White vs. Craig Jones

Before the match started, Carey entrusted me with an important sheet of paper-- his preparation for Craig Jones-- to ensure there is no question about the provenance of his over-the-board play. Looking at the crib note, I was concerned when I saw: 1. e4 d5 on the paper, but 1. e4 c5 on the big screen. So much for Carey's preparation this match! I'll leave detailed analysis to others, but the main trouble for Carey started when he let his center get liquidated without much play:
After 13. e5 (diagram), the center got liquidated, and Black has probably already equalized. Still, the tide really started to turn a few moves later, when he played from the following position.

Here Carey played 18. Nd4, allowing 18...Nxd4 19.Bxd4 Bxd4+ 20.Qxd4 Bf5, when White does not have an easy time holding the b-pawn (see next diagram).
Here Carey could have tried to hold on with the slightly awkward but playable looking 21. Qxd8 Rfxd8 22. Rbd1 Rxd1 23. Nxd1, but instead he tried the far riskier (and the dubious suggestion of your humble blogger) 21. Qxa7, sacking the exchange for a drafty king and three rather slow passed pawns on the queenside. However, once the queens got traded by move 28, the evaluation flutters around possible chances for White-- without threats to the White King, those pawns do look menacing!

Carey's pawns after the queen trade-- they look dangerous, but Black's pawn can also advance quickly. Black eventually converts what will be the Cobra's only win.

That makes two losses for the Nor'easters on Board 4. Hopefully this is only USCL beginner's nerves for Chris and Carey.

Board 1. Hungaski had Black

After jumping to a huge time advantage, Hungaski entered a very long think in the following position:

With the other games looking very bad at this point, the long think worried us. We thought the only thing to think about was- "Gee, my knight is going to look stupid when I play Nh8."

Instead, Hungaski sprang 22...Ne4, which the crowd dismissed as losing material by force after 23. Ne4 23. Nxe4 Rxf3 24. Nc3 Qd6 25. Qxg6. Our collective heart skipped a beat of dispair until Bournival chess rapped (alas, only figuratively for now) that Black has a perpetual after 25... Rg3+ 26. fxg3 Qxg3+ 27. Kh1 Qxh3 28. Kg1 etc. This is indeed what happened. 1/2-1/2

Afterward, I asked Hungaski why he didn't play the optically ugly Nh8, and he replied that he evaluated the resulting positions as much worse for Black. While this may be true, from a team standpoint, I wonder if taking the draw was the best decision-- after all, two of the other boards still looked pretty bad for the Nor'easters at this point. Of course, with hindsight, this draw was critical for the team's victory, so maybe second guessing this choice is unfair. Also, maybe this reflects the pure professionalism that IMs and GMs bring to the game-- objective choices based on their positions-- that rewards them in the grueling Swiss system tournaments. In a match, though, the requirements of the team can trump normal chessic considerations, so the real question becomes, "How are my teammates doing right now? What are the odds that I'll need a full point instead of a half?"

OK, let's get out of the theoretical clouds (a Nor'easter cloud? [groan] ) and back to the action.

Board 3 -- Charles Riordan had Black
With the draw on Board 1 and disasters on Boards 2 and 4, Charles's game loomed large. And the angry mob did not like what we saw. After the game, Charles assured me that he had seen similar positions before, and he thought it was quite playable. Best I brush up on my Catalan.

Charles chose a setup where his pawns are on the white squares, hemming in his bishop, and his queen dances around on an open file, then also gets hemmed in on the light squares:

Position after 12...Qc8, part of a plan dismissed by the crowd. Surely, White had some advantage, but then wasted a key tempo with 17. h3, allowing Charles to clarify the issue on the queenside.

Here White played 17. h3....
when Black has time to get things moving with 17. Bb7 18.Qd3 a5 19. bxa5 Rxa5 and White errs with 20. a4? (diagram) when after 20...bxa4, the pawn can't be touched yet because of discovered attacks on the c1 rook.

A few moves more, 21. Rcb1 Ba6 22. Qd1 Qc6 23. Nxa4 Bxe2 24. Qxe2 Rxa4 25. Rxa4 Qxa4 26. Qd1 Qxd1+ 27. Rxd1 Ne4 and Black has consolidated with his extra material and wins cleanly. Nor'easters and Cobras were tied up 1.5-1.5.

Board 2. Vigorito had White
Dave confused everyone when he delved into an early long think in the following position:

In the audience, Tony Cortizas (who took all the great photos for this post) asked about the move, 10. c5. Everyone immediately pointed out that it hangs a pawn after 10. Bxe5 dxe5 11. dxe5 Nfd7 12. Qc1 Na6 13. Nd2 Qxc5 14. Qxc5 Ndxc5 15. Rfc1 Nd7.

So, our jaws dropped to the floor when Dave pushed 10. c5? What had we missed, certainly something? No-- the game continued as described and White was just down a pawn in this ugly position:

At this point, Bournival hip-hopped out that, if you were shown this position and asked to evaluate the ratings of the person wielding the White pieces, an average chessplayer might guess 1400-1800. Certainly not an IM of 2500+!

Play continued toward the inevitable for many moves, when Dave found a clever, if futile plan to generate some counterplay on the h file. (Props to Paul MacIntyre for suggesting such a plan to the crowd).

After 25. Rah1, White pins down Black's rook with the forced 25... Rh8

Dave keeps fighting, and fighting, and ..... suddenly the clouds started to lift a little bit (a Nor'easter cloud? [groan] ) when Dave managed the following hard-to-crack blockade:
The position after 38...Bg6 has a nice blockade, AND an active plan of White's own after 39. Rf2
Nf8 40. f5 Bf7 41. Rc2 Ra7 42. a4 Kg8 43. f6. This doesn't quite turn out to be enough by itself, and after 43...h5 44. g5 h4+ 45. Kh3 Bg6 46. Rf2 Rh5 47. Bc1 Kf7 48. Bd2 Ra8 49. Rc1 Black is still doing well. However, after playing 49...Bf5?, White replies with the line opening 50. Rxf5! (diagram), and now Black is in big trouble.

There followed 50...exf5 51.Bc4+ Kg6 52.e6 (diagram)

When Black gives material back with 52... Nxe6 53. Bxe6 Rxa4 when Black's menacing three passed pawns and material deficit visually reflected the action on Board 4.

In the end, David manages to weave a pretty mating net with his extra material (diagram), and bring home a second victory for the Nor'easters!

After 62. Be4, Black is forced to give up the rook on f6 to prevent the threatened mate of Re7. If instead, Black tried Re8, then White simply plays 63. f7 Rd8 64. g6 and White cashes in. A few moves later, and the Nor'easters celebrated with Dave's long-unexpected 1-0, surely cutting the hearts out of Cobra Commander, Destro, and other snake fans everywhere.

Join us next week, when the Noreasters hope to continue their winning ways against the New Jersey Knockouts.

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